The past four years have each taken on their own identities for consumers, retailers, and commercial real estate companies. 2020 was obviously the pandemic year, where consumers had to quickly change behaviors and retailers were forced to make drastic changes in their business models to keep up. With such drastic changes in 2020, 2021 became a year where many retailers and commercial real estate companies made structural changes in their operating models, adopting new store sizes or formats or evolving their tenant mix. 2022 got off to a rocky start with COVID variants and inflationary pressures, but eventually, we saw a reopening that led to a shift away from physical goods to experiences that has largely continued through today. And while inflation defined much of 2023, we also think consumers' focus on events, value, and uniqueness also explains consumer behavior.
Heading into the year, there was hope that 2024 would be our first “normal” year in some time, but three weeks in, we’re already seeing evidence that weather may be end up being a more pronounced story. Storms across the Midwest (for the week ending Jan. 15) and Southeast (during the week ended Jan. 22) have already had a significant impact on visitation trends across many retail categories. Below, we’ve used data from Placer’s Industry Trends report to examine year-over-year visit trends for chains across all major retail categories to start the year.
For the week ended Jan. 8, visits decreased -8.6% nationwide across all categories and a relatively small variance range across states (ranging from double-digit declines across much of the Northeast to low-single-digit decline in the upper Midwest).
We start to see the impact of the snowstorms that hit the Midwest U.S. during the week ended Jan. 15, with Nebraska and Iowa seeing an almost 30% decrease in visitors year-over-year, and many other surrounding states seeing a 20% decrease in visits.
For the week ended Jan. 22, the Southeast U.S. was more heavily impacted, including a -32% decrease in retail visits in Tennessee, a -22% decline in Mississippi, and mid-to-high teens declines in Arkansas, Kentucky, Alabama, and West Virginia. Texas saw a -14% decline in visits that week.
Which categories were hit hardest by these weather trends? Consumer electronics–which had a strong Black Friday and solid holiday period (which we discuss in the economics section below)–saw mid-to-high teen declines in visits throughout January, although the category is lapping some tougher comparisons with many retailers shedding excess inventory in the year ago period (this is also true for office supplies). After that, we see the greatest impact in a few more weather-sensitive categories like home improvement (mid-teens declines in visits) and restaurants (the QSR/Fast Casual and full-service restaurant categories both saw double-digit declines in visits as the month progressed).
We expect weather will be a key topic as retailers and restaurants begin to report their full-year 2023 results and provide 2024 outlooks over the next month. Historically, inclement weather is something that doesn’t have a major impact on consumer demand for products and services (it usually just delays these purchases), but it is possible that those chains that have outsized exposure to the affected regions may temper their expectations for the year.